Fall is coming: Prep your kitchen to feast

By Jessica Rajkumar | LTVN Reporter

My favorite season is a toss-up between summer and fall. The warmer seasons bring sunshine and cold drinks that cool you down to combat the heat. Some new staple foods that have gained popularity in recent summers are bruschetta, Japanese soba noodles and the controversy that is cowboy caviar.

However, while cold finger foods bring so much joy during lake days with my friends, nothing can beat warm soup and baked meals that flood your kitchen with that autumn aroma. Soup season is upon us, ladies and gentlemen. While soup is not exclusive to the colder seasons, I truly believe it does not taste as good unless it is sweater weather.

A big part of autumn for me and my family was the transition between the summer and fall seasons, as seasonal depression can be a serious threat to the well-being of a family. So in order to combat this dreaded change to colder weather, my mother — consciously or not — would put up the decorations and change the house to adapt to the feel of the holidays. One subtle change I noticed only now is how she would change the prep areas of the kitchen to accommodate the soups and hot plates we were eating.

The blender was replaced by a slow cooker, and the fruit bowl would gradually become a new loaf of banana bread each week. She is very critical of how her kitchen is arranged, and I can see the logic behind prepping for the cold months. Going out to the grocery store in the cold can be discouraging; however, with these additions to your kitchen, you will be inclined to cook a hot meal as soon as you come inside from the chilling air.

1. Dutch Oven — The Beyonce of Kitchen Appliances

I can’t express how much a pot with a lid has changed my chef game. The Dutch oven is essentially a heat-proof, burn-resistant pot with a lid. Usually ceramic, the Dutch oven can cook a range of dishes from start to finish, solely in that one vessel.

It makes soups, sauces, stir-fry and so much more. It’s so easy to make all of that while being oven-safe, scratch-resistant and non-stick. I am utterly in love with this appliance, and regardless of the time of year, I use it at least once a week.

The pricey Dutch ovens that the professionals use are eye-catching, and while I envy the white marble La Creuset, I found most brands work perfectly fine.

Chef tip: Cook onions and aromatics down first when using the Dutch oven. The pot will develop the flavors due to the high heat and will really make a difference in whatever you make. For soup, roast your favorite veggies in some oil in the oven, then blend with any broth for an easy soup tailored to your palate.

2. Electric Kettle — The Quickest Hack for Cup Noodles

We have all had those times when the night is never-ending and we are at our last straw in patience to make food for ourselves. Especially during the cold months, motivation can take a dive with final exams and projects. However, with flu season upon us and only projecting to get worse, it is vital to keep yourself nourished.

During finals and the end of the semester, it is OK to be lazy sometimes when your brain needs a reset. An electric kettle is a saving grace for busy days. You can use it for cup noodles, tea and any ready-made hot dish that needs hot water. On sick days when I can barely crawl out of bed, the kettle saves me a couple minutes standing up, and I can relax and focus on eating a meal.

3. Bouillon Powder/Paste — Good Soup

An underrated ingredient that is a staple in almost every soup, gravy and sauce — bouillon, whether in the form of a powder or paste, is a dehydrated version of the stock it was cooked from, such as chicken, beef or vegetable. In any soup, you either utilize a stock or a broth to give the soup body and enhance flavor. However, with the addition of bouillon to a soup, the flavor is enhanced and the broth becomes more rich.

Chef Tip: I believe bouillon can be as versatile as any spice if used properly, as in my cooking, I add a pinch to ramen if I want a more savory broth or even to my stir fry to thicken up sauces and marinades. It completely makes a difference in flavor, as stock condensed has fat and salt, which can elevate a simple dish.

4. Green Tea — A Cool Girl’s Coffee

I honestly do not get the craze over the pumpkin spice latte, as I am a green tea fanatic. A natural remedy for centuries, green tea is packed with antioxidants and has zero calories. So while many might be sprinting to the bathroom after they finish their macchiato, green tea can soothe the stomach and sinuses, while giving a similar caffeine kick. I personally do not react well to caffeine, which is why I found a non-caffeinated option that works perfectly for me. Whether I am unwinding from a long weekend or enjoying a night of TV with a cold, green tea is a healthy substitute for coffee during the cold months.

Chef Tip: For more flavor in more tea, try adding either honey or lemon. Make sure to pour hot water over the tea bag and a fresh lemon (processed lemon juice will not help the taste as much), and then stir in honey while the tea is hot to avoid any clumping. Chamomile and oolong tea are great substitutes for a more earthy taste.

5. Portable Mug — Adult Sippy Cup for Class

Whether you love the colder months or not, it is not easy to go to class on campus during the heavy rains and winds. One motivational hack for class that I have found is bringing hot tea, coffee or even a light soup in a travel mug with a lid. Having a warm motivation to get you into your classroom is rewarding, and it can give the class a more mentally calming experience.

There is no feeling worse than being too cold in a classroom, and with the investment of a hot travel mug, you can kill it in class all while being cozy. The hot mug can warm your hands, stomach and heart all in one go, and the lid ensures that the heat is trapped, so the tea or soup can be insulated. The portable mugs are usually reusable and dishwasher-friendly, although it can easily be cleaned in any sink.

Winter is coming, Baylor, and with these essentials, make sure you are prepped for the colder months to ensure maximum productivity and comfort. Everything I have listed here, you can search for on Amazon to find a product that best fits your price range. And while cooking can be a challenge for some students, these essentials make the kitchen a little less complicated and the end result more delicious and rewarding.